Outcry over EU's 'greenwashing' of nuclear and gas

Activists and member states including Germany object to draft proposals

An activist dressed as French President Emmanuel Macron denounces Paris's push to include nuclear energy on an EU green list. Photo: Reuters

The EU is facing a backlash against its proposals to include nuclear power and natural gas on a list of climate-friendly investments.

Activists and EU members were angered after the European Commission said both nuclear and gas had a role to play in the transition to cleaner energy.

It added them to a draft of the so-called EU taxonomy, a brochure of climate-friendly investments from which investors will be encouraged to choose. The move follows promises by the private sector at the Cop26 summit that it would act with the planet’s interests in mind.

Greenpeace said the proposals were a “licence to greenwash”, or conceal unpleasant facts about a company's environmental footprint - the very kind of trickery that an EU-sanctioned green list was meant to avoid.

“Polluting companies will be delighted to have the EU’s seal of approval to attract cash and keep wrecking the planet by burning fossil gas and producing radioactive waste,” said Greenpeace’s Magda Stoczkiewicz.

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) criticised Brussels for “sneaking out” the proposal on New Year’s Day and giving countries only until January 12 to submit further objections after months of intensive lobbying.

After that, it will go to the European Parliament and Council for approval. Only certain nuclear and gas projects will qualify.

“Short of digging an actual hole, the European Commission couldn’t have tried harder to bury this proposal,” said WWF spokesman Henry Eviston.

Germany, the EU’s leading opponent of nuclear power which last week closed three of its last six reactors, said the decision to include atomic energy on the list was “absolutely wrong”.

But it gave a mixed verdict on natural gas, exposing a potential rift between the Greens and Liberals in the new coalition in Berlin.

Liberal Finance Minister Christian Lindner said gas was a necessary stopgap as Germany turns its back nuclear and coal, while Green Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck said the EU had watered down sustainability.

Greenpeace activists project an anti-nuclear slogan onto a German cooling tower at one of the plants disconnected last week. EPA

Austria, another anti-nuclear lobbyist in Europe, also said the EU’s proposals had taken a step towards greenwashing nuclear and gas.

The two energy sources are “harmful to the climate and environment and destroy the future of our children,” said Climate Minister Leonore Gewessler.

The EU’s decision represents a victory for France and other pro-nuclear countries including Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic, who had lobbied Brussels to include it on the list.

While Germany was spooked by the 1986 Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima disasters into scrapping nuclear power, France and others see it as a low-carbon energy source that reduces Europe’s reliance on Russian gas.

Nuclear power provided about 25 per cent of the EU’s electricity in 2020. Fossil fuels accounted for 37 per cent and renewables 38 per cent.

The EU “cannot become carbon neutral by 2050 without nuclear energy”, said France’s European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune, referring to Europe’s plans to become the first net-zero continent by that date.

Analysts had regarded the inclusion of gas as a potential compromise to win over countries such as Germany. Although gas is a fossil fuel, it produces less carbon dioxide than coal or oil.

Updated: January 3rd 2022, 10:58 AM